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National Bar Association girds up to push back against a rollback of basic rights

More than 1,000 predominantly Black judges and lawyers from across the nation gathered in Memphis this week (Sunday, July 24 through Friday, July 29) for the 97th Convention of the National Bar Association (NBA).

The Ben F. Jones Chapter of the NBA is hosting the convention at the Renasant Convention Center.

Judge Carlos Moore, the outgoing NBA president. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

The July 24 kickoff featured a call to order by outgoing NBA President Carlos Moore, a judge from Grenada, Mississippi. A financial report, the organization’s year in review, and announcements brought members current on NBA’s present state.

Monday featured breakout sessions on assorted topics. 

One of the widely attended workshops was a special gathering of judges and others interested in the judiciary. 

Session moderator, Moore, called 2022, “Jim Crow Era 2.0.”

Moore said, “The Supreme Court has just changed life as we know it for women in this country. We must deliberate about who we elect. This is not a game. 

“Just think of it: If we all died today, our children would be left in a world with fewer rights than we have enjoyed. We must intentionally elect people who will be on our side.”

The “rollback of affirmative action and civil rights” was a recurring theme as Moore and others expressed the importance of judge actions in a “reversion back to blatant racist” in the law, in schools, in conservative churches, and the marketplace.

Famed attorney civil rights attorney Benjamin L. Crump (Center) attended the National Bar Association Convention in Memphis. Also pictured (l-r): Atty. Andre Wharton, attorney Monica N. Wharton, Crump, Criminal Court Judge Gina C. Higgins, attorney and Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner Jr. (president of the Memphis Branch NAACP) and Will Frazier. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

Other sessions focused on themes touting the importance of Black prosecutors in the American justice system, as well as Black judges.

Other compelling themes on the confab’s agenda were critical race theory, protecting the Black vote in 2022 and beyond, judicial ethics, environmental justice, and other topics dealing with racial justice.

“The National Bar Association was started at a time when African Americans could not be a part of the American Bar Association,” said Moore. “It is ludicrous to think that our organization is no longer relevant because we can now join the American Bar. The strides made in civil rights and human rights are being quickly snatched away. The National Bar Association is as relevant now as it ever was.”

Van Turner Jr. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Memphis Branch NAACP president and civil rights attorney Van Turner Jr., who also is a Shelby County commissioner, praised the NBA as an organization tasked with articulating and representing “certain interests of African-American people.”

“Affirmative action has been diminished by conservative activism in legislation,” said Turner. “The same thing is happening with other issues that directly affect us. What we have to do is push back and fight for actions that are making things more difficult for Black people.

“The reversal of Roe v. Wade was a tremendous setback, but the way we fight is to build back our presence in the state legislatures, in Congress, and the Senate.”

Turner said there is “no immediate resolution for taking back what was lost in the Supreme Court’s decision against Roe. But organizations that formerly provided services for women’s heath must help poor and minority women mitigate the devastating effects of the ruling by supporting travel options and providing information to women. Funding must be provided to help women work through their dilemmas.”

Tennessee state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, a Memphis Democrat, in closing remarks of the judicial session, welcomed NBA to the city, but also issued a challenge to the congregate of legal minds.

State Rep. G.A. Hardaway (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

“I challenge you, while you are here in Memphis, to soak up the history and culture,” said Hardaway. “The dream died here in Memphis all those decades ago, but millions of dreams have been born here since that time. Work for equity and equality in the law. Lawyers are our soldiers on the front lines. Voting rights are being taken from our people. We are in another post-Reconstruction era. Never give up that fight.”

Founded in 1925, the National Bar Association has a membership of about 66,000 Black lawyers, judges, law professors and law students. (Photos: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Thursday’s closing session will see Moore pass the gavel to President-Elect Lonita Baker.

Founded in 1925, the NBA has a membership of about 66,000 Black lawyers, judges, law professors and law students.

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